With the exception of a couple of potential late additions, the 2013 recruiting class is now signed and complete. Coaches are turning their focus to the class of 2014 and preparing the team for spring practice. Before we look ahead ourselves, we wanted to take another look at the recently signed class. How well did it fill the team needs, and how will those players fit heading into the spring?
The Tigers had a number of needs to fill going into 2013, and for the most part, those needs were filled. Gus Malzahn and his staff have only been on the job for two months. That's not a lot of time to have to cram in evaluating the current roster, evaluating the previous staff's committed prospects, determining needs and going out and developing relationships to fill those needs. Considering all that was going against Auburn when Gus took over, it has been a remarkable turn around in such a short time.
Were there misses? Sure, there always will be. But this year, Signing Day had a different feel than recent years. Last year, it just felt like we missed on all of our big targets at the end. Auburn definitely built some recruiting momentum with Signing Day this year. It hurts to lose out on Reuben, but as much as we all refused to let ourselves believe it, we all had the thought in the back of our mind that it was coming. Whatever happened and whatever circumstances surrounded it are history, and we must move on. MacKensie Alexander was the other big miss, but only because we shot. A few weeks ago, Auburn wasn't even in the picture. Then, the Tigers landed his twin brother, Mackenro, and all of a sudden, we let ourselves believe Gus and company had pulled it off. Foster was a supreme talent, and MacKensie would have been a great piece to the puzzle, but those two were really just about the only misses this staff had Wednesday.
Auburn hit the junior college ranks for a few players that the Tigers hope can inject some talent and production into the lineup immediately. Then they set their sights on the prep ranks in order to assemble a foundation of talent to build upon in the future. This class should be that foundation.
Auburn signed 20 prospects on Wednesday to go with the three early signees and agreed to a grayshirt with punter extraordinaire Jimmy Hutchinson, who will enroll next January and be counted as part of the 2014 recruiting class.
The day started off with a bang as Elijah Daniel from Avon, Ind., made the decision to flip his commitment from Ole Miss to Auburn and was the first to fax in his National Letter of Intent. Rated a five-star on some sites, the addition was big for Auburn who needs defensive ends in this class after losing Corey Lemonier to the NFL and having three seniors at the position for 2013.
The next two NLI's received by Auburn were from a pair of teammates who had recently flipped their commitments to Auburn from Texas A&M and Nebraska, respectively. Wide receivers Tony Stevens and Dominic Walker got their faxes in early, and both expect to play early in a receiver corps that will see just five scholarship players participate in spring practice.
Marcus Davis, who projects as a slot receiver, was next to sign. The slight-of-build athlete has plenty of speed and quickness and could be an in-space playmaker in Malzahn's offense. Longtime commit Kamryn Melton, cornerback from the Dothan area, was the next to put pen to paper and make it official.
That was followed up by the signing of one of the more underrated prospects in this class, Peyton Barber. Barber's commitment reminded us of a MLB trade deadline deal sending former commit Jordan Wilkins to Oxford in exchange for Barber. Auburn fans should be excited about the way that turned out. Barber has the size to be an every-down back and a between the tackles runner. He runs with a low center and behind his pads, has excellent feet and vision and will remind some of Michael Dyer (minus the attitude). Barber should fit Malzahn's system very well.
Nick Marshall was next, followed by your leaders on both sides of the ball for the next few years in Carl Lawson and Jeremy Johnson. Those two were the most important commits coming into Signing Day and look to be future leaders on both sides of the ball. Lawson could find himself in the playing rotation right away this fall, and Johnson will join Marshall in the race for the starting quarterback job once they arrive on campus.
Earnest Robinson, Kenny Flowers, Cameron Toney and Jason Smith were the next to make it official and fax in their NLI. Then, Auburn picked up two big (literally and figuratively) commitments in linemen Deon Mix and Montravius Adams. Mix, a former Mississippi State commit, is a big, athletic interior offensive lineman from South Panola High. Auburn didn't have a big need for O-linemen, but what need they did have, was for guard and/or center prospects. Adams' commitment certainly provided the BOOM! to a big Signing Day. He's a monster in the middle of the defensive line and could provide immediate help to a unit that underperformed in recent years. Auburn has had difficulty stopping the run, and Adams is a gap filler built for just that purpose.
A trio of defensive backs followed, including another Signing Day commitment. Mackenro Alexander, the lesser known of the Alexander twins. He projects as a hard-hitting safety and will be coming to Auburn with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Alexander is a solid prospect. The other defensive backs were Khari Harding, a one-time Arkansas commit, and Brandon King. Harding is another hard-hitting safety and seems to fit Ellis Johnson's defensive scheme perfectly. He has good size and could play any of the safety positions. King is originally from the state of Alabama, but comes to Auburn out of JUCO. He's yet another hard-hitting safety with a big frame. He could bulk up and play outside linebacker, however, his most likely destination will be the hybrid "star" position that is unique to Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme.
Daniel Carlson, one of the top kicker prospect in the nation, was next to sign. He'll provide depth at the position and should be ready to step in if either of Auburn's senior special teamers were to go down. He's got a big leg and is pretty automatic from 40 yards and in.
Auburn rounded out the day with one more signing day surprise, adding Johnathan Ford to the class. The speed back was once committed to Vanderbilt, but a late visit to the Plains gave the top in-state back something to think about. He's got speed to burn and good size. His build will remind some folks of Tre Mason, but he may have more top-end speed. Ford will be a candidate to fill the void left by Onterio McCalebb.
There is still an outside possibility that the Tigers could add a couple of late signees. JUCO defensive tackle Toby Johnson still has one more visit planned before he decides on Feb. 19, and Georgia, Mississippi State and Auburn appear to be the favored teams. Maybe the fact that the Tigers signed four of his teammates will give them the edge, but with several upperclassmen at his position already, the depth may push him away. Corn Elder is the other possibility. He's still deciding between playing basketball or football, or both. He's planned a Feb. 20 announcement. As it stands right now, he may be leaning towards another school, but Auburn is holding a spot for him just in case.
Quarterback: Auburn needed to sign a quarterback or two in this class, and the Tigers did just that. Johnson is more of a pocket passer, but he does posses some mobility to move and escape pressure. Nick Marshall was the No. 2-rated JUCO quarterback and offers more of a duel threat. He's getting a second chance at the SEC level and will be looking to prove to Auburn he was worth the chance the Tigers took. Athlete Jason Smith can be counted here, as he is expected to get a shot at QB, but most project he will end up as a wide receiver for Malzahn.
Skill (RB/WR/TE/H-Back): The Tigers needed to add depth and inject talent at the skill positions to decrease the huge deficit in numbers at the running back and wide receiver positions. They were able to add some playmakers at both positions. Auburn will enter the spring with just three scholarship running backs, including early enrollee Cameron Artis-Payne. Barber and Ford will be welcome additions for both depth and talent in the fall.
For a spread offense, the Tigers will be awfully thin at the receiver position this spring, but the addition of some very talented wideouts will help. Stevens is long and lanky with tremendous upside. He may remind some SEC fans of a young A.J. Green, as he has a similar style to the former UGA standout. Earnest Robinson is a sure-handed possession receiver and together, the two give the Tigers a dangerous tandem. Walker is Stevens' high school teammate and is another big-bodied receiver who can stretch the field on the outside. All three have potential to play early next fall.
Offensive Line: After a monster haul along the offensive line in the 2012 class, this wasn't as much of a need position as some others. However, the Tigers wanted to add an athletic interior lineman to the group. Auburn dipped into the JUCO ranks for a big guard prospect in Devonte Danzey and was able to get him enrolled early. He will be able to go through spring practice and has potential to play right away at one of the guard spots. The Signing Day addition of Mix was a welcomed surprise. He's another athletic interior line guy that will add depth and could push for playing time early.
Defensive Line: With five rising seniors along the defensive line and last year's anemic production, Auburn needed to bring in talent. Everyone knows that to win in the SEC, you have to have a dominant D-line. The Tigers started by bringing in Ben Bradley from the JUCO ranks to provide immediate depth. He'll push the returning guys for playing time this spring. But, this fall is when the headliners of Auburn's 2013 class will enroll. The Tigers signed their foundation for the future with three impact linemen: Lawson, Adams, and Daniel. Each one has the potential to play, or even start, early in their college careers on the Plains.
Linebacker: Maybe the one slight disappointment in Auburn's class is the lack of linebacker depth. The Tigers' linebacker play has been inconsistent and needed a shot in the arm. Toney and Flowers should be able to provide that, but it would have been nice to add another true linebacker. Nevertheless, Auburn did get a pair of talented players. Both have good size, something Auburn's linebackers have been missing in recent years. Both come to Auburn listed as inside backers, but they have enough speed to play on the outside, as well. They will most likely be in the rotation next fall.
Defensive Back: With Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme, the safety role is vital, and the Auburn coaches went out and signed several prospects that can help on the back end. King seems to be a perfect fit for the hybrid "star" position. Harding and Alexander are both hard-hitting safeties that will bring a physical presence. Melton may not have been highly-rated, but he turned heads at the Alabama/Mississippi All-Star practices and will provide depth as a cover corner for Auburn.
Special Teams: Games are won and lost with the kicking game, so these positions have become increasingly valuable. It was not an immediate need, however. With both of Auburn's current special teamers being seniors for the upcoming season, the Tigers dipped into a deep 2013 talent pool and secured commitments from two of the nation's best. In order for the numbers game to work out, Auburn negotiated a grayshirt agreement with Hutchinson. As was mentioned earlier, Carlson will provide depth at the position and should be ready to step in if either of Auburn's senior were to go down. He's got a big leg and should continue in the footsteps of successful Auburn kickers.
Now that we've introduced the recruiting class, here is the updated roster as it currently stands heading into spring practice.
And here's a stab in the dark at a pre-spring depth chart, including newcomers:
And the two-deep (or three-deep in some cases) this spring might look a little like ...
Auburn will be thin at some key positions this spring. However, once this signing class gets on campus this summer, some of those thin spots will gain depth and could even become strengths for the team. There is talent on the roster, and it will be up to the new staff to coach them up. If they don't take full advantage of their opportunities this spring, some of these talented freshmen and JUCO transfers will come in this fall and fight for playing time. After a dismal season, this recruiting class should give Auburn fans a glimmer of hope for better days ahead.